Is Category 1 Status Coming?

A team from the United States Federal Administration is in Manila this week to validate the results of an audit that was conducted last January regarding Philippine compliance with aviation safety. 

According to Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya, the FAA team led by John Barbagallo, Division Manager for Flight Standards, is scheduled to arrive on March 26. "The FAA will have a validating visit on March 26 with Mr. Barbagallo coming over," said Abaya.

Leaked reports in the media last February revealed that there were still on-going deficiencies in the Philippine government's oversight of aviation safety with a number of corrective measures to be implemented. Although the Philippines remained in Category 2 status when the US Federal Aviation Administration posted its most recent results of the International Aviation Safety Assessment program, CAAP officials clarified that no official pronouncement or final decision has been made by the FAA regarding the future status of the Philippines. "The results of the audit including additional corrective actions undertaken shall be validated by FAA higher officials next week and results are expected to be officially released in April," said Rodante Joya of the Civil Aviation Authority.

In spite of unfavourable media reports earlier this year on whether the Philippines would receive its upgrade, a report in the Business Mirror recently quoted a highly confident and optimistic John Andrews, CAAP Deputy Director General, suggesting to employees that bonuses would be issued once the country is lifted from Category 2 status this month.

"We will be back to Category 1 in March, so your bonuses would be doubled," said Andrews. According to eye witnesses, shouts and applause erupted from the crowd. But this isn't the first time that a confident Andrews was quoted as claiming that the Philippines would receive its upgrade. Sources at Manila International Airport Authority indicated that Andrews revealed during a confidential meeting between CAAP officials that the FAA restored the Philippines to Category 1 status because of the recent acquisition of 41 brand-new Oshkosh aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicles worth an estimated P1.316 billion. "Napadali dahil sa pagbili natin ng fire trucks sa America," said Andrews. In his comments, Andrews suggested that the Category 1 announcement would be made earlier because CAAP purchased fire trucks from America.

When the Civil Aviation Authority revealed the purchase of the new fire fighting equipment, they stated that it was part of an upgrading of all major airports in the country to comply with international standards. "The deployment of the newly acquired ARFF is part of the upgrading of the Emergency Services Unit of CAAP at all major airports in the country in compliance to the ICAO, Federal Aviation Administration, and the European Union international standards," said William Hotchkiss, CAAP Director General. The Civil Aviation Authority awarded the contract to Oshkosh Corporation, an American industrial company that designs and builds the trucks.

Several companies bid on the project to acquire the new fire trucks and accusations were made regarding anomalies by the Department of Transportation and Communications Bids and Awards Committee. However, complaints were disregarded as they allegedly did not meet the strict requirements of the Bids and Awards Committee. Last November, the Manila International Airport Authority purchased two of the same fire-trucks worth an estimated P100 million. The Chief of the Manila International Airport Authority Jose Angel Honrado commented that the new fire trucks satisfied the required specifications set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Meanwhile, it was also rumoured that CAAP officials were discussing the possibility of the announcement of Category 1 status during the visit of US President Barack Obama in April. However, not all industry observers or CAAP officials remain as confident that the country will receive its coveted upgrade after the embarrassing performance during the mini-audit in January. John Andrews would not comment on the results of the mini-audit conducted by the FAA last January after leaks in the media suggested that the outcome was not favourable. "Let us just wait for the official announcement," said Andrews.

Although actual results of recent FAA assessments might seem to suggest that the Philippines is not ready for an upgrade to Category 1 status, political winds might swing the decision into a more favourable direction. The purchase of the American built airport fire fighting vehicles is indeed a political and safety point in favour of the Philippines. In addition, the United States and the Philippines are currently negotiating terms for a return of American troops back on to Philippine soil for a temporary 20-year deployment. It would not be surprising if Category 1 status became a political bargaining chip in the present negotiations. Some aviation industry analysts in the Philippines view the upcoming arrival of Barbagallo as a positive sign given that the high ranking official seems to only show up when important announcements need to be made.

The Philippines is not the only country anxiously awaiting results of a US audit. Nigeria was upgraded to Category 1 status in 2010. But now the United States is returning for another audit to ensure that the country has maintained the standards that were set in place four years ago. As Nigerian media reports, the aviation sector is apprehensive over the outcome of the impending audit after India was recently downgraded to Category 2. As for the Philippines, everyone will just have to wait and see.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.